Hello? Is there anyone still out there?
*Crickets chirp in the distance*
Just in case there is, I finally bring you the next chapter of TAoR… please don't start throwing rotten fruit at me.
The Art of Redemption
"We're finally going to New Mexico. We leave the day after tomorrow when everyone else gets back," I announced to Carlisle and Esme as I walked into Carlisle's study and sat in the open chair next to Esme.
"Is Bella finally ready?"
"I hope so," Esme said hopefully. Carlisle, Esme, and I had known that Bella was in New Mexico but had remained silent until the time was right; until she and Jasper had reunited. Esme had missed Bella terribly and even without my ex-husband's gift, I could feel her longing. But I still couldn't give her a definitive answer; there were too many variables and too many different outcomes.
"I hope so. She's there, but I make no promises."
"She's upset. We betrayed her," Esme whispered.
"She is. But trust me when I say, she's the least mad at you, Esme. She'll be angry and will, without a doubt, say things that will hurt you, but it'll be out of anger. She won't mean most of it."
I quietly walked back to my room. I could hear Esme and Carlisle discussing our upcoming holiday in New Mexico. Esme was ready to swoop in, scoop Bella up and never let go. But it wouldn't be easy. Bella wouldn't trust us and every vision I had of Thanksgiving showed Bella walking away from all of us, even Jasper. And I didn't know how to stop it.
I couldn't blame her though. Four years ago, we all walked away from her and seemingly never looked back. I checked on her from time to time to see how she was coping and was happy to see what a beautiful young woman she has transformed into. But it wasn't easy for her to get there.
I knew it wasn't going to be.
I had seen the results of us leaving before we had even left. Her father's murder, her mother's and stepfather's murder… all of it. But most importantly, I saw that us leaving led her to Jasper which outweighed all the bad. Had we never left; they would have never 'found' each other and their destiny would have never been fulfilled. Jasper would have stayed with me and her with Edward. And we would have been doomed.
Something big was coming. And it would be because of Jasper and Bella's love that we would all survive. Without them, we would surely perish.
Now it was just a matter of breaking the news to Edward that his beloved truly wasn't his anymore. It was a conversation I wasn't looking forward to and in every scenario I saw, he wouldn't take the news lightly.
But it finally had to be done.
"I still can't believe that asshole gave me a B+! It should have been a solid A! God damn Yankee asshole!" Bella screamed, waving her latest report in the air. I walked over to her and wrapped her in my arms.
"Calm down now, darlin'. A B+ is somethin' to be proud of."
"Not when it should have been an A! I guess that's what I get for writing a paper on how easily the South could've taken the North. The damn Yankee bastard didn't want to admit that I was right! Look he wrote right here 'tactic not possible. Union force too strong.' My ass it was too strong! Who the fuck is that cocksucker trying to kid? You know how long I planned it out and even you said it would've worked. Every fucking tactical detail was planned… it's flawless!"
"He's a yank, darlin', there ain't no persuadin' him that the South coulda won the war. To them, it's not even plausible."
I felt her resolve as she started to calm. "You're right. The South will rise again and when it does…"
"And when it does I'm going to shove this damn paper down that asshole's throat."
"You think you can just kill one more yank? For little 'ole me?" she asked calmly with a slight hint of mischief. "I won't tell anyone you slipped."
"Now, darlin', your professor bein' a damn yank and givin' you a B+ is no reason to give the poor guy a death sentence."
"Fine," she said before sighing, "I guess I'll have to ask Peter."
"Ask Peter what, Kitten?"
Speak of the Devil and he shall appear.
Bella wriggled out of my arms before walking over to Peter. She looked up at him and with a pleading look asked him, "Will you eat my professor? He gave me a bad grade," she even batted her eyelashes and had a full on pout goin'.
It was too damn cute and anything she would have asked him… he would have done it, no questions asked.
"Okay," Peter said with a trancelike voice.
"Thank you, Peter, I knew you would do it. It seems that I have you wrapped around my little finger," she said, holding up her right hand with her pinkie finger extended.
I couldn't believe what I had just seen… a human dazzling a damn vampire. While I couldn't exactly believe it, it really didn't surprise me none. I rolled my eyes and couldn't help but be a little bit proud of my Bella.
"Wait… did I just agree to somethin' I shouldn't of?"
"Yeah, ya did. Seems like Bella has found a way to dazzle ya," I explained while walking over to retrieve my mate.
"Kitten, what did I just agree to?" Peter asked hesitantly.
"Don't worry about it, Peter… I don't my professor dead. I'm just mad at him."
Peter guffawed loudly while shaking his head. "Kitten, why don't you go take one of them nice hot bubbly baths you seem to enjoy so much. I'll even send Char up with a nice glass of that wine ya like. Or, if you would prefer some Jack, we can do that too," Peter suggested.
"Hmm… you know that actually does sound nice," Bella said with a smile on her face. I started pulling her towards the stairs.
"Uh-uh Major. She goes alone. The point is to relax."
"Oh I'm sure I can relax her," I said somewhat smugly, still leading Bella up the stairs.
"No, Jas, he's right. While you really can relax me, I think I'd rather have a nice hot bubble bath by myself this time," she said, looking at me and smiling slightly.
"Fine," I agreed.
"Thank you," she said before kissing my cheek. "I promise I'll give you a rain check."
"Char just got back so I'll send her up in a bit, Kitten," Peter called as Bella turned, ran up the stairs and mumbled a quick 'thank you.'
"Come on, let's go make her somethin' to eat," Peter suggested. "Lord knows she wouldn't of gone up there if she knew what we were doin'."
"She's a stubborn one," I said as we walked to the kitchen.
"She's a woman. What the hell did you expect?"
"I heard that," Char said while rounding the corner with an arm full of groceries.
"And I meant it woman. Ya'll are all the same… can't make up your damn minds 'bout nothin'. And when you do ya'll are damn stubborn and can't be swayed."
"I have no idea what you're talkin' about," Char said playfully. "But keep talkin' like that and you'll learn firsthand just how stubborn I can be."
Okay, maybe not so playful.
"Char, babe, I didn't mean it like that," Pete stuttered hastily. "I'm sorry,"
"Uh-huh," she responded, rolling her eyes. "I'm gonna get Bella her wine, ya'll can handle startin' the chicken, right?"
"I think we got this, Char."
"Don't think Bella didn't tell me 'bout the coffee incident, Major," she said while pouring the red liquid into the glass.
"You made coffee? And I missed it?"
"Shut the fuck up and get the damn bird ready while I do the stuffin', it shouldn't take long."
We worked in relative silence, with Peter's occasional mumbling about me making coffee, until Charlotte came down a few minutes later and turned on the oven. "You boys got the bird ready to be stuffed yet?"
"Yeah, babe, I think we do. Now what?"
"Well I would have thought that would be obvious, sug. You gotta stuff it," she said, disappearing around the corner again.
"You mean you want me to stuff my hand up the bird's ass?"
"I'm glad I don't have your job."
"Fuck you, Major, she's your girl."
"Yeah, but I'm not the one that has to shove my hand up the ass end of a dead bird."
"Keep talkin' and I'll shove my foot up your ass,"
"Try it and you know what'll happen."
"It'll be worth it," Peter mumbled, taking a handful of the stuffing and shoving it into the dead bird. Halfway through stuffing, Charlotte came back into the kitchen.
"You know I was kiddin' right? You coulda just put the stuffin' in a bread pan and baked it…"
"Dammit, woman, you coulda told me sooner!"
Char shrugged her shoulders, "I honestly didn't think you woulda shoved your hand up a bird's ass, sug. She really does have you wrapped around her little finger."
I chuckled and Peter's frustration flared.
"You know she's right, Pete. You'll do anything she asks. Captain, I do believe you're goin' soft for a human."
"I don't know what you're talkin' 'bout, Major. I ain't goin' soft," he said with determination while pouring melted butter over the plucked, putrid bird. "At least I'm not eatin' Bambi," he mumbled under his breath.
Peter but the chicken in the oven and set the timer. After which, we all went to the living room and turned on the T.V, waiting for Bella to come back down. It had been a tough week for her, but I was proud of how she handled it all. She truly was an amazingly strong, beautiful young woman who I hoped would someday become my wife.
"You know you should actually say those three little words before thinkin' them thoughts over there don't ya?" Peter said.
"What do you mean?"
"You're thinkin' 'bout marryin' that girl… you got that far away goofy as fuck look goin' on over there. You should tell her how you actually feel first."
"Bella knows how I feel."
"But did you tell her?" Charlotte asked.
"Of course you should. You know she can feel it, but it's always nice to hear just the same."
"I love you, Char."
Charlotte smiled up at her husband and I could feel both of their love for each other.
It was a beautiful thing.
"I love you too, Peter," she said, sitting up and placing a chaste kiss on his lips before snuggling back into his side.
We sat in relative silence, watching T.V. and just enjoying the emotional atmosphere in the house.
Things were never good when an 'uh-oh' or an 'oops' comes out of anyone's mouth let alone Peter Whitlock's.
"Peter? Sug, what's wrong?"
"My spidey senses be a tinglin'. There's a storm a brewin'."
"What do you mean a storm's a brewin'?" I asked, suddenly worried about Bella's safety.
"We got company, and Kitten ain't gonna like it."
"The fuck you mean 'Kitten ain't gonna like it'?"
"Major, you're about to have a family reunion."
I took a deep, unneeded breath before responding. "All of 'em?"
"I think so. I'm assuming the pixie told 'em. Should one of us go tell her?"
I knew Bella and I knew what she would do. If I told her, she'd sneak out the back and be pissed with me. If I didn't tell her, she'd come down to the shock of a life time. And she'd still be pissed at me; it was a catch twenty-two. "No. She needs to face 'em."
Peter and Char both shook their heads slowly. "She gonna be maaaaaaad at you," Peter said mockingly, dragging 'mad' out slowly.
It wasn't long before we heard the cars pull into the driveway. From the sounds of it, they brought Carlisle's Mercedes and Edward's precious Volvo. Peter warily walked over to hit the button that opened the gate. "You sure, Major? We can just tell 'em to 'fuck off.' This is Char's house after all."
I nodded, it was now or never. With my confirmation, Peter pressed the button that allowed a part of Bella's past to come back and haunt her.
Bella was right in the middle of singing Jason Aldean's She's Country when the cars pulled up.
"Oh I'm pretty sure Kitten's gonna be a crazy mother-trucker when she gets down here and see's all of 'em."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Charlotte whispered with concern.
"She'll be fine," I said adamantly, pushing out some confidence to my family.
I was nervous. Peter was nervous. Char was anxious. And Bella… Bella was thankfully oblivious. Before anyone could actually get to the door to open it, a furious Rosalie Hale stormed through it and was right in my face. The rest of the Cullens, including Edward, were still standing at the door.
"You just had to cozy up with that fucking human, didn't you? What the fuck were you thinking, Jasper? You do realize she is what broke up your marriage!"
"You know anger ain't your prettiest emotion right, blondie?"
"Fuck off, Whitlock. This is between me and my brother!"
"Just remember he was my brother first blondie. And you're also in my wife's house so I suggest you show some fuckin' respect 'round here."
Rosalie backed off, turning towards Peter and Charlotte. "You're right, my apologies. Charlotte, it's nice to see you again. Peter."
"Rosalie, it's nice to see you. Please, have a seat. The rest of you, please, come in. Make yourselves at home," Char said cordially, motioning towards the living room. Emmett, Rose, Edward and Alice followed Char and Pete to the living room. Esme, however, briskly walked up to me and wrapped her small arms around my torso.
"I've missed you, my darling," she said warmly, choking back tears she would never be able to shed.
"I've missed you too, Esme," I said sincerely, placing my arm around her back. Carlisle walked over and patted me on the back. After Esme reluctantly tore her small frame from mine, I shook Carlisle's hand. "Carlisle, it's good to see you."
"Good to see you, son. I trust you've been well," he said, nodding his head towards the stairwell. I couldn't help but smile.
As soon as Carlisle mentioned Bella, I felt the hope emanate from Esme. The love I felt from Edward didn't go unnoticed either.
"I ain't gonna lie; she hasn't had the easiest life since we all left her."
"My goodness! Is she alright? What happened?" Esme asked frantically.
"It isn't my story to tell."
"But she's okay?"
"She is physically. She's stronger than we all gave her credit for but emotionally, she's pretty scarred though she refuses to show it."
"Has she seen anyone… to help?"
"Yeah, a punching bag at the gym and her roommate. Then of course she has Peter, Char, and I."
"But now she has us, her family."
"No offense, Esme, but I don't think she's gonna be welcomin' ya'll with open arms."
"This is what I was afraid of, leaving her as we did. It appears her psyche couldn't handle it," Carlisle explained clinically.
"It wasn't necessarily our leaving that changed her. Again, that ain't my story to tell. It's up to Bella to tell you what she wants to and I suggest ya'll don't push her. That goes for all ya'll. She's gonna be pissed enough and I don't need ya'll pushin' her."
The rest of the Cullens were seated in the living room and Charlotte was nervously standing by the stairs. Upstairs, it sounded like Bella was using the blow dryer to dry her hair.
"She'll be down soon," Peter said, glancing towards the stairs. "I feel I should warn ya'll, even if you don't really deserve it. She's just like him," he said, nodding in my direction. "She's just like him and can be pretty volatile when pissed and she doesn't take nobody's shit. She'll put ya in your place and do it quickly. Lastly, if she cries for any fuckin' reason, someone is gettin' hurt. I don't give a shit if it's a man or woman, you make my Kitten cry, I fuck you up."
"I ain't kiddin', blondie, you make her cry, I will fuck you up; unless of course Kitten finds a way to fuck you up first. She may be a little human, but I'm pretty sure she could find a way to hurt ya. Don't underestimate her."
"I doubt she could do much."
"If that's what you want to believe, blondie. If that's what you want to believe."
A few minutes later, we heard a gasp, the crash of an empty wine glass on the hardwood floor, and I felt Bella's anger in full force.
And she was pissed.
Peter was right… a nice hot bubble bath was exactly what I needed. I slid down into the rose scented bubbles until they almost hit my nose and breathed in the intoxicating scent. The room was softly lit with scented candles and the radio was on and I couldn't help but sing along to the latest country hits while I lay my head on the bath pillow.
It was complete bliss.
A few minutes later, I heard a soft knock on the slightly opened door, "Bella, sug, I got your wine."
"You can come in, Char."
The door opened the rest of the way and Charlotte poked her head in. "Certainly looks relaxing in here," she said, setting the wine glass on the side of the tub.
"Hmm… it is, that husband of yours was right, Char. Thanks for the wine," I said smiling at her before I sunk back down into the bubbles.
"No problem, hon; you just take your time and relax. We'll see ya in a bit," she said before walking back out the door. My only response was an 'hmmm' and a scrunch of my toes in the bubbles.
To say it had been a long, emotional week would be an understatement. When Char and I got back from dropping Drew off at the airport Monday evening, I was met with the smiling face of my Jasper but what shocked me the most was the golden color of his once crimson eyes. He must have felt my confusion and explained that he was feeding off animals again. I tried telling him that he didn't have to change for me; that he was fine just the way we was. He responded by saying he wanted to be a better man. That he wanted to be better for me.
Peter just said he was whipped.
Tuesday was the hardest day… Tuesday was the anniversary of Charlie's funeral. I stayed quiet most of the time, crying sporadically throughout the day, grateful that I had Jasper there to hold me when I did. Later that evening, I knew that the emotional climate within the house shifted. Everyone was tense and on edge and I knew Jasper was projecting what I was feeling… sorrow, anger, and the need for revenge. A need that I somehow knew would be sated in the future. It was just a matter of when.
"Bella, darlin', you okay over there?" he had asked as I sat there looking over old Civil War battle plans, specifically that of Gettysburg, though it was a Union victory, and First Bull Run.
"La vendetta è un atto di passione; la vendetta di giustizia. Le ferite sono vendicó; i crimini sono vendicati,"I whispered, my eyes still fixated on the map in front of me as I circled the weak points of both armies.
"Bella, I don't know what you're plannin' there, darlin', but know I'll support whatever you chose to do." Charlotte and Peter chose that moment to walk into what has been dubbed 'the war room', which was really Jasper's office, and quickly agreed with Jasper.
It was at that moment that the wheels started turning and a plan began to formulate. A plan that I would surely keep to myself… for now.
I stayed in the tub reminiscing about my week until the water ran cold, bubbles disappeared, and I turned into a prune. I pulled myself out of the blissful bath, grabbed the fluffy wine colored towel, and wrapped it around my body.
I took the other smaller towel and quickly scrubbed my head with it to remove the excess water before taking out my blow dryer. I plugged it in and quickly started drying my hair, combing through the tangles with my fingers as I went along.
After my hair was dry, I slipped on a pair of gray yoga pants and a black t-shirt before grabbing my cow print slippers that were a gift from Drew. I grabbed the now empty wine glass and started to head out the door. Walking by the window, a reflection of light from outside grabbed my attention. When I looked out the window, the wine glass slipped from my hand sending it crashing down to the wooden floor; shards of glass shattering everywhere.
There sitting in the driveway of the Whitlock home was two cars; a black Mercedes and a shiny silver Volvo.
Anger surged through my veins as my body went rigid.
My mind started playing through several different scenarios of what I could do. I could try making a mad dash through the window and running away.
But that would make me as cowardly as him.
I could go down there and completely ignore everyone.
Yeah, because we all know that I would be able to just ignore them.
After thinking of several different scenarios, I finally knew what I had to do. I took a deep breath, gathered my courage and made my way out of my bathroom, through my bedroom, and down the hall; stopping at the top of the stairs, where all nine pairs of eyes, golden and crimson alike, were all trained on me.
"You have some nerve coming here," I stated as calmly as I could, descending the stairs one painstakingly slow step at a time. I tried to keep a calm façade as I inched closer and closer to the 'family' that disposed of me like I was last week's fucking garbage. But on the inside, I was kicking and screaming and wanting nothing more than to run away. When I got to the last step, Esme tried to embrace me in one of her motherly hugs that used to bring so much comfort. Before she got to me though, I stepped away from her.
Esme took a step back from me and looked as though she was trying to shed the tears she would never be able to. "I suppose I deserve that," she stated sadly before stepping back to Carlisle.
"I'm sorry, Esme, but it won't be that easy. You all left me and you can't possibly think that you all can just waltz back into my life as if nothing happened. It doesn't work like that. Trust and respect have to be earned; I don't give it away freely anymore. I've learned my lesson," I said, looking directly at Edward as I said the last part. "Someday, things may change. But for right now… I just can't." Esme put her head on Carlisle's shoulder and just shook her head in understanding, looking completely devastated.
"You've all got some nerve coming here but you, do you want to fucking die? Seriously?"
"Bella, love, I can explain…"
"Did you seriously not think I wouldn't find out it was you?" I said, marching right past Edward and towards the true source of my pain. "Did you think that because I am a poor, defenseless human that I didn't catch on? I'm smarter than you give me credit for, Alice."
I am terribly sorry that this has taken so long to get up... I've had a lot of personal issues that I've had to work through lately but I think I've finally got a grasp on reality again and things are finally getting better. I promise the next chapter won't be so far away.
Thank you to all of my wonderful readers and to those of you that review... it means so much to me!